Below is a speech I gave to the ACT Legislative Assembly this morning:
I am pleased to have this opportunity at the start of a new Parliamentary year to reflect on the important work the ACT Government has underway, and outline our priorities for 2019.
The development of an integrated public transport network for Canberra, a fairer tax system, increased investment in better local schools and public healthcare, the shift to powering our city with 100 per cent renewable electricity, inclusive social policies, attracting new businesses and creating good jobs in key industry sectors by opening our city to the world – this is what we promised Canberrans in 2016 and this is what we are delivering.
Our agenda is to continue making Canberra more inclusive, progressive and connected.
In 2019, that will mean getting on with the job of delivering the better infrastructure, services and community supports we promised.
Canberra is a great place to live, and more people are choosing to make our city and the surrounding region their home.
Today, we are a city of 420,000 people and we are planning for a population of 500,000 over the next decade.
We understand that it’s our role as a government to cater for these new arrivals so Canberra families aren’t stuck in traffic jams or left struggling to access the healthcare and education services they need.
That’s why we have work underway on the $500 million expansion of the Canberra Hospital, along with other community health facilities.
Late last year, we confirmed the location for the new SPIRE Centre that will deliver more and better emergency and specialist healthcare services; in the next few months the government will consider the full business case for this important project so that we can get on with letting tenders and getting shovels into the ground.
We will deliver territory wide health care, open an expanded and upgraded Emergency Department at Calvary Public Hospital, continue to bring down wait times, and deliver 14,000 elective surgeries this financial year.
Canberrans can also expect to see a clear focus on improving the culture of public health workplaces in Canberra, as the Government implements the recommendations of the Independent Review into workplace culture.
We will also begin delivering on our commitment for two new paramedic crews and five new state-of-the-art art ambulances fitted with electronic stretchers, power loaders and brand new defibrillators.
This adds to the 23 new paramedics and two new ambulances delivered last year and shows we are continuing to invest in our core emergency services as our city grows.
Being a truly inclusive city means ensuring that everyone has fair and equal access to justice, whether they are a victim, accused of a crime or involved in a civil case.
Following extensive consultation with the disability and legal communities, we will also finalise a Disability Justice Strategy for the ACT in the first half of 2019 – delivering on another election commitment.
In education, we are in the process of delivering more public schools and more student places at existing ones.
With the 2019 school year comes the opening of the Margaret Hendry School, Gungahlin’s newest primary school.
Located in Taylor, it will ensure children in Canberra’s fastest-growing region can continue to find a place at a great local school close to home.
We are also adding around 1,000 places to existing schools across Canberra, and work is well underway this year to deliver another full new school in the Molonglo Valley.
Minister Berry is also continuing to develop the model and framework for our commitment towards free early childhood education to every three-year-old in the ACT, up to 15 hours per week, in addition to the existing arrangement for children in the year before full-time school.
Stage 1 of Canberra’s light rail network is nearing completion and a significantly expanded new bus network will commence in April, with the 2018-19 Budget Review delivering new initiatives to support the commencement of Canberra’s integrated transport system.
Minister Fitzharris is now progressing planning for Stage 2 of Canberra’s light rail network, with current work focused on securing Commonwealth environmental and planning approvals as quickly as possible.
The light rail route from Civic to Woden is an important link in the city’s future transport network as well as a significant new project in our forward infrastructure plan, and we are determined to get on with building it.
Getting on with delivering these important health, education and transport infrastructure projects is a top priority for our government in 2019 because we understand that they are essential for protecting and improving Canberra’s liveability in the 2020s and beyond.
Minister Stephen-Smith and I will also soon sign a new 10-year ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement, along with the Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, and the Head of Service.
The new Agreement will continue to set out the ongoing commitment of the ACT Government, the Elected Body and the community, to recognise and respond to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the ACT. I thank the Elected Body for the significant consultation and work that has gone into developing the new Agreement.
Madam Speaker, we recognise that owning a home or finding secure, affordable and suitable housing is a challenge for many Canberrans. We will continue to focus on improving housing affordability and supply in 2019 because we know that this is central to our city’s inclusiveness.
Last year, Minister Gentleman launched the ACT Planning Strategy Refresh, which steps through the important choices we face about our city’s growth.
This year, we will build on that work by undertaking a review of the Territory Plan to ensure we are delivering a more efficient, outcomes focused planning system that results in better design outcomes and protects what people love most about our city.
We are also committed to raising the quality of buildings here in the Territory so Canberrans can have confidence in the homes and apartments they buy.
To do this we will ensure those who hold a licence have the appropriate knowledge, we will increase the level of design documentation that needs to be provided so builders can have an appropriately detailed plan to build to, and we will develop codes of practice for builders and certifiers to ensure adequate supervision of the building process.
We know that if we want to protect what is unique about Canberra and ensure we continue to be the bush capital, we must contain urban sprawl and combine greenfield developments with urban renewal in the CBD, town centres and dedicated transport corridors – that’s the way we can protect our suburbs while avoiding Sydney-style commutes.
This approach is making more homes available that are within reach for first home buyers and single-income families.
From 1 July this year, first home buyers will also get more support to purchase their first home with the Government abolishing stamp duty for eligible first home buyers – whether they want to live in a newly built home or an existing property in an established suburb.
This is a potential saving of tens of thousands of dollars for young Canberrans looking to get into the housing market for the first time.
This year will see the completion of our public housing renewal program, which is replacing 1,288 of Canberra’s oldest public housing dwellings with modern, energy efficient homes that will suit the current and future needs of tenants.
But we aren’t stopping there – we have already announced that the next phase of our investment will deliver $100 million to build up to 200 more new homes and renew another 1,000 over the next five years.
This work will get underway in the second half of this year so that we can keep the momentum going from the public housing renewal program to deliver even more new and renewed homes for Canberra’s most vulnerable.
This is part our wider ACT Housing Strategy that will tackle our big housing challenges across the spectrum – from homelessness to renters’ rights – and make sure more Canberrans find the right place to call home.
The implementation of the strategy has already kicked off with initiatives funded in the Budget Review and more to come throughout the year.
We will also continue to ensure all Canberrans have access to the high quality city and community services wherever they live.
Minister Steel is overseeing the rollout of green bins, with all Canberrans to have access to a green bin by April this year, and we are undertaking a program to build new playgrounds and upgrade existing ones through the $1.9 million community-led Play Spaces Forum.
Madam Speaker, the ACT has one of the fastest growing economies in the country, and Canberra’s population is growing because more people are finding secure, well-paying jobs and choosing to settle down here.
Canberra’s unemployment rate is now 3.6 per cent, 1.4 percentage points lower than the national rate. We continue to have the lowest rates of unemployment anywhere in Australia.
This success did not happen by accident, and we must continue to diversify our economy and support more job creation for Canberrans from all backgrounds.
Over the coming year, the ACT Government continue to engage in a range of discussions with community stakeholders about the opportunities posed by emerging industries, and we will begin community consultations to refine the Government’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Procurement Policy.
We will also continue discussions with the University of New South Wales about establishing a new UNSW city campus.
Education is a vital part of the Canberra economy and the establishment of a new city campus could see thousands of new students coming to Canberra to study.
To maintain our strong economy and create new growth opportunities, Canberra must also connect with opportunities beyond our border. That is why we will continue to strengthen our connections in the Canberra region – Government to council, business to business, by road and rail.
We will also keep working to link Canberra with other cities in Australia and around the world that can grow and diversify our economy. We will continue to better connect Canberra by working to attract more direct flights – particularly focussing on connections to China, New Zealand, the United Sates and Hobart.
This will benefit the community as a whole by generating more business for local companies, producers and creators, and giving them more opportunities to expand and grow into new markets.
Madam Speaker, in addition to the great initiatives we have planned or that are well underway, we also continue to utilise the Legislative Assembly as a vehicle to drive important reforms for Canberra.
In forthcoming sitting weeks, I will introduce legislation to reform the ACT’s Compulsory Third-Party Insurance scheme.
At present, the scheme does not cover everyone injured in a motor vehicle accident, payouts can take more than two years, and Canberrans still pay among the highest premiums in the country.
The Government’s changes will deliver a fairer accident insurance scheme that will better protect all Canberrans on our roads.
We will also implement more recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by amending legislation to enhance the operation of our Working with Vulnerable People Scheme, and further legislative reforms to ensure the confessional seal cannot be used as a shield to protect perpetrators of sexual violence against children.
Minister Ramsay will also continue his exceptional efforts to limit the harm caused by problem gambling by reducing the number of electronic gaming machines in the ACT.
The voluntary surrender scheme developed by the Attorney has been incredibly successful. The response from industry has been very strong and we will have more to say about this in the coming days.
This year, the Government will also deliver on our commitment to establish the ACT’s first Drug and Alcohol court to engage high-risk high-needs offenders whose criminal activity is associated with drug and alcohol dependence.
Substance abuse has a strong link to criminal offending, and evidence suggests drug courts are effective at reducing both reoffending and substance abuse.
From 1 July, the ACT’s new Integrity Commission will also begin taking submissions.
Canberrans rightly expect transparency and accountability from their government, and the establishment of the ACT Integrity Commission, combined with our progressive reforms to Freedom of Information rules and legislation to ban developer donations to all political parties in the ACT, will deliver on this expectation and our election commitment.
Finally, when it comes to combatting climate change, the ACT is, and will continue to be, a national and global leader.
Tackling climate change isn’t just an environmental imperative but an economic necessity. Communities and governments are finally starting to understand and act.
In the ACT, we started this journey years ago, and we will meet our goal. I thank the Canberra community for making this journey.
We have invested in the clean energy projects necessary to achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2020, and this year we will make clear that 100 per cent renewable energy is the standard Canberrans expect, when Minister Rattenbury introduces legislation to enshrine the target in law.
In addition to our 100 per cent renewable electricity target, we have also set a nation-leading target to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.
In 2019, we will release two major strategies, our next Climate Action Plan and the new Transport Strategy, to ensure Canberra remains Australia’s most sustainable city over coming decades. We are leading the way – something our kids and grandkids will appreciate more than we can realise now.
Madam Speaker, over the past two years we have made a lot of headway on delivering the better Canberra we promised.
In 2019 we are focused on making more progress with the important infrastructure projects that this city will need in the years to come, while continuing to deliver legislative reform that reflects this community’s progressive values and makes our city even more inclusive.
We’ve got a lot to do, and as a government we are getting on with it.